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Fmr. Sen. Mike Gravel: 7 things you need to know

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By Roey Hadar

Gwen Ifill Fellow

Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel is running for president, focusing his campaign on reforming foreign policy and ending what he calls “American imperialism.”

The 89-year-old Democrat, who served two terms as a senator from 1969 to 1981, announced his presidential bid in April, initially running not to win but to qualify for a presidential debate and push the party leftward on foreign policy and other issues. A few weeks into his bid, however, Gravel decided to fully pursue the Democratic nomination and announced he was "in it to win it."

Here are seven things you need to know about the former senator.

  • Gravel ran for president in 2008. Gravel came out of retirement to campaign on a platform opposing the Iraq War, supporting single-payer healthcare and promoting reforms that would take powers from Congress and give them to voters.
  • A pair of students convinced Gravel to launch the bid and are running his campaign for him. A high-school senior in New York and his friend, a freshman at Columbia University, reached out to Gravel to try to draft him to run for president. Gravel gave the students his blessing and allowed them to create a Twitter account on his behalf on the condition that they handled day-to-day operations.
  • Gravel is an Army veteran. He served during the Korean War in the early 1950s.
  • As a senator, he came to prominence as an opponent of the Vietnam War. Gravel said that U.S. soldiers in Vietnam “died in vain” and attempted to end the draft. Gravel read portions of the controversial Pentagon Papers and submitted them into the congressional record. The senator could have faced prosecution for reading out classified information, but was cleared of wrongdoing. Gravel also played a major role in the Senate’s approval of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the 1970s.
  • In his 2020 campaign, Gravel seeks to highlight the dangers of what he calls “American imperialism.” Gravel accused President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney of war crimes and saying they “need to go to the Hague” and be tried by the International Criminal Court.
  • On social media, Gravel’s Twitter account has attacked other Democrats for their stances. Gravel’s account criticized former Vice President Joe Biden for supporting the Iraq War, California Sen. Kamala Harris for aggressive prosecutions and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker for taking votes that supported big pharmaceutical companies.
  • He is writing a book that seeks to make an argument for direct democracy. Gravel would like to see voters hold more power and be able to vote directly on legislation introduced by citizens. Gravel wrote a previous book on the issue, Citizen Power, first published in 1971 when he was a senator and is reportedly close to finishing up his second one